Fans of local dance companies may have noticed the new kid in town but on closer look is not new at all. Gentry Isaiah George, artistic director of Zest Collective, is a native Floridian who has come home.
George followed his heart and his dream to become a dancer. His journey, which started in Miami, has taken him throughout the world but now he wants to help strengthen the South Florida dance community. “My aspiration is to see an influx of dancers choosing Miami as their creative hub and to witness a growing and enthusiastic audience eager to immerse themselves in the world of dance.”
He began dancing when he was eight years old with Linda Agyapong at the Community Book and Dance Club and Vladimir Issaev at the Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida. “I have a vivid memory of renting a VHS tape and being captivated by Virginia Johnson and the Dance Theatre of Harlem's performance in 'Creole Giselle.' It made a profound impression on me. I was enchanted by the music, mesmerized by the costumes and sets, and deeply moved by the fact that everyone on the stage resembled me. Witnessing their artistry at such a young age felt like gazing at members of my very own family.”
Male dancers often struggle in a primarily female-dominated field however Gentry’s path was rather unhindered. “My journey as a male dancer was relatively smooth, and I was fortunate to have nurturing parents. I received valuable support from my high school, New World School of the Arts, as well as from Ruth Wiesen and Armour Dance Theater." He also mentions Issaev at Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida for playing a role in his development as a dancer.
His talent earned him a Level 1 YoungArts award and a feature on HBO’s "Masterclass" alongside Jacques d'Amboise. His dance career was launched.
After he graduated from The Julliard School, George joined Ailey II of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His talent there was noticed, too, and he earned dancing stints at Lustig Dance Theatre and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, under the Direction of Virginia Johnson.
“I enjoyed a fulfilling career, and many opportunities seemed to come my way effortlessly. However, the most significant challenge I encountered was the necessity of living away from my family for extended periods and the perseverance required to overcome multiple injuries,” he admits.
In 2013, he co-founded Zest Collective in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City rapidly establishing it as a premiere dance company. “My best friend Tyler Garacci and I founded Zest Collective,” says George. “Back then, we were both passionately dancing with Ailey II. While we cherished our roles and the incredible repertoire we were exposed to, a burning desire to create our own work and carve out opportunities for ourselves also ignited within us.” Before coming to Miami, Zest's performances graced various New York stages, including SummerStage, The United Palace, HarlemStage, Ulster Performing Arts Center, and The Wassaic Project.
In 2016, the Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts hired him as Dance Ensemble Director. Enjoying the role of educator, he next took on the job of Youth Ensemble Director for the Dance Project of Washington Heights. Because of his contributions to the field of dance, he was invited to join the faculty at the American Musical & Dramatic Academy (AMDA). His choreographic talents have left a mark on institutions like the Arts (Norfolk, Va.), Arts High School (Newark, N.J.), Cooperative Arts and Humanities High (New Haven, Conn), and The Juilliard School (New York).
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world and was a motivator for Gentry to return to Miami.
“The pandemic brought about a profound shift in everyone's lives. It was during this time that my younger brother shared the joyous news of his wife's pregnancy with their first child. Reflecting on the substantial time I had spent away from my family, dedicated to training at Juilliard and dancing across the country and abroad, I realized the need for a change. One day I woke up, made the decision to break my lease, rented a truck and drove home.”
He wasted no time in finding his fit in Miami. In 2020, George stepped into the role as rehearsal director for the Peter London Global Dance Company until February 2022. Other jobs followed, most notably a commission by the Miami Light Project to create a new work for Here & Now 2023 and choreography for PianoSlam 14 presented by Dranoff 2 Piano and the Adrienne Arsht Center.
Miami’s dance community has grown throughout the years supporting many dance companies but George wonders if there is enough. “Miami audiences have a diverse and vibrant arts scene, and there is certainly support for dance. However, like in many cities, the level of support can vary depending on factors such as the type of dance, marketing, accessibility, and the presence of established dance companies. Engaging and educating the community about the beauty and significance of dance is an ongoing effort that can help build even stronger support from Miami audiences.”
Fred Astaire said it best when he said, “Do it big, do it right, and do it with style.” The artist's hopes and aspirations for his company are huge. He’s hoping Miami audiences will embrace his company.
“My vision for Zest Collective encompasses the creation of a rich body of work and touring the world alongside friends and colleagues. My vision includes building a team of exceptionally talented dancers, affording them salaries and comprehensive benefits.” George works with a team of 10 dancers that he collaborates with on various project-based works all based in Miami. His work reflects his extensive ballet training which he shares with his company. “Dance is movement literature. A language without words.”
Zest Collective performs as part of the Daniel Lewis Dance Sampler in Naples on Friday and at the New World School of the Arts in Miami. For more information and performance dates about Zest Collective visit www.zestcollective.org. For information about the Daniel Lews Dance Sampler, see the miamiartzine.com story.